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October 6, 2011
Yes You Can!
Lisa Hesse
You might read about Hanna and Cindie and come to the conclusion that these are stories about triumph over tragedy, but you would be missing the point.  Both women did face very real and significant roadblocks to reaching their goal of living a healthy lifestyle.  What makes their story unique is NOT the forces they were up against, but rather that they were able to tap into their innermost qualities of spirit, strength and perseverance to tackle these obstacles.  Read on.  If you have a nagging barrier that keeps you from pursuing your goals, maybe flip the "CANT" to a "CAN" or, in Hanna's case, the "HAVE TO" to a "GET TO."
Hanna's story begins when she was 12-years-old and diagnosed with, Lupus, a very serious and chronic disease.  She was told the symptoms would come and go, seemingly on a whim, leaving her fatigued and with muscle and joint pain, possible skin lesions, mouth sores and even hair loss.  Most people with Lupus have a mild form of the disease characterized by episodes called flares.  For a 12-year-old trying to keep up with five older siblings, this news sent a ripple of fear through Hanna Kitchens that would stay with her as she matured through adolescence and into adulthood.
The fear meant that enjoying an active lifestyle was a potential stressor, so she kept it safe - safe but not necessarily physically healthy and definitely not mentally healthy.  When life stressors began to take their toll, her doctor recommended starting an exercise program.  Hanna's original plan was to join a gym and walk inside, but as many of us can relate, a training partner motivated and inspired her to do more.  Before Hanna knew it, she was registered for a triathlon training program.  Hanna had a lot of work to do; the least of which was to accept herself as she was, to understand the training had to be approached with acceptance and patience at its core.  She had to learn to hear, but not be negatively influenced by, the inner critic that threatened her self-confidence every step of the way.  As she began her training, the workouts felt overwhelming and extremely difficult.  What kept her going?  Vital to her perseverance were her fellow triathletes and the sense of "team and enjoyment" she felt.  She learned to have FUN.
"Once I let myself really see my workouts like the recesses that I enjoyed as a child, pre-Lupus, my whole perspective changed and I had a new level of enjoyment and sense of play that I had been missing for so many years in my life," explained Hanna. "Within the safety and support of my training program, I let myself push a little more each week and realized that just past that point of fatigue lay new energy, strength and improved physical health.  In short, early in my training at mile three I was done, but later at mile six I was having fun!"
Hanna's experience has taught her that being in control of her body through keeping fit has helped her move toward actively control her disease, and more generally, improving her wellness in the face of Lupus.
Cindie never considered herself an athlete.  In fact, just a few years ago, she would never have used the word "athlete" in her vocabulary.  At age 40, Cindie was 80 pounds overweight and facing serious health issues related to a lifetime of inactivity and obesity.  Her father died at an early age of medical issues that, for the most part, could have been prevented through better self-care.  Cindie faced that same fate if she didn't do something to change.  Also, as the mother of five teenagers, she wanted to be a positive role model for her family. "I can't do it", "I'm too fat", or "what was I thinking, I am not an athlete" were thoughts that ran through her head on a daily basis.  As with any major life change, Cindie's dedication to a new, healthy lifestyle meant facing her worst enemy: herself.  It meant taking a good hard look at who she had become and deciding to change.  How did she do it?
An important factor in Cindie's transformation was the support system that helped her along the way.  She joined an online weight-loss group and a women's training program to complete a 5K. Cindie embraced the power of a group approach and learned to hold herself accountable for her actions.  Starting with the goal of finishing a 5K walk, Cindie has progressed to a triathlons, half-marathons, and road cycling.
Just this summer, Cindie achieved her greatest goal yet-completing the three day, 300-mile bike ride called the Wish-A-Mile Bicycle Tour for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.  Upon reflection, Cindie explains that many of the lessons she learned about losing weight also hold true when training for an athletic event.  She learned that "off" days were important in reaching her goal.  When asked how she kept at it, and what message she would like to leave with our readers, this is what Cindie had to say: "In a discussion about triathlons, someone said "I want to win my life", not win the race, and that really stuck with me.  I know I'm not going to break any records, but I'm doing this for myself, to improve my life and have fun.  The friends I have met along the way have made it all worth it."
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